The second Arqus Annual Conference ends with great success after 3 days of intense work by more than 200 participants, including students, academics, technical and administrative staff and institutional representatives from the 9 Arqus universities and other external stakeholders. More than 20 sessions, side events and social activities have taken place at the buildings of the University of Padua.
The meeting has been invaluable for the advancement of the institutional and strategic objectives of the Arqus universities, based on the ideals of inclusiveness, multilingualism, innovative education, quality research, entrepreneurship and active participation at European and international levels. It has shown the importance of face-to-face meetings for building community. The representatives of the new member universities, the University of Wroclaw and the University of Minho, have participated in the event, showing their commitment and enthusiasm to grow as individual universities and as Alliance within Arqus.
The conference, held under the theme "Free to Choose. Fostering Access to Higher Education in European Universities", has been marked by the role of Arqus (and of the European Universities in general) in the defense and protection of freedom, diversity and accessibility, fundamental values which revolve around the 800th anniversary of the hosting university, Padua, and which stands as the foundations for the construction of the higher education model of the future. Other topics such as transformative excellence, open science and social responsibility of the higher education sector have been addressed from many different approaches and perspectives during the Conference.
Prof. Daniela Mapelli, Rector of the University of Padua, has stated: “The cornerstone of the University of Padova and of the Arqus Alliance is freedom: freedom to learn and freedom to research. And science is our universal language. Here in Padova, scholars from many countries shaped a Europe of science centuries before the creation of Europe as a political and democratic entity. Now here we are, each of us with our own experience, collaborating and sharing a vision based on the ideals of inclusion, multilingualism, innovative education, quality research, entrepreneurship and active involvement for a better Europe. Freedom for the betterment of humanity cannot be taken for granted. We call for peace; our universities actively work towards defending and supporting students, researchers and lecturers at risk. Freedom is the fundamental value that guides our work and our choices. On this well-defined path we will continue to work together towards our common objectives”.
In her speech, Eva Egron-Polak, former Secretary-General of the International Association of Universities and member of the Arqus International Advisory Committee, has stressed the importance of research and education in preserving freedom: "We go from crisis to crisis, both near and far, natural and man-made. Populism, nationalism, fake news, racism, xenophobia: all of these denigrate scientific knowledge and are designed to control people's freedom".
The discussion around the new perspectives of the European University initiative and the future of the Alliances has also been an important moment at the Conference with the esteemed presence of Ligia Deca, Presidential Advisor to the President of Romania at the Department of Education and Research; Federico Cinquepalmi, Director General for Students, Development and Internationalisation of Higher Education at the Ministry of University and Research of Italy and Vanessa Debiais-Sainton, Head of the Higher Education Unit at the European Commission (online participation).
The Conference has meant a turning point in the future of the Arqus academic community by defining and agreeing on the mission and strategic priorities of the Alliance for the next 10 years. These medium- and long-term objectives, set out in the document “Mission Statement”, highlight the need to intensify the commitment of Arqus in the defence of democratic values and the search for peace. The role of universities in times of crisis and conflict and, namely, in taking actions to support higher education institutions damaged by the war in Ukraine, have been priority topics at the Student-led Forum.
The Annual Conference has also highlighted the efforts and has shown the achievements of the Alliance to produce quality education through increasingly competitive collaborative academic programmes. Specifically, during the meeting, some member universities have signed inter-institutional agreements for the launch of two new Joint Master's Programmes in “European Studies” and “Translation and Interpreting”.
The internal sessions to update and follow up on the Action Lines’ progress and results have focused, among other objectives, on the challenges to consolidate Arqus joint academic offer, reinforcing innovation in teaching, learning and assessment, increasing and diversifying the mobility of all kinds for students and staff, and implementing a Joint Research Action Plan. For the last objective, the Arqus R&I project held its fourth High-Level Seminar with the participation of the Vice-Rectors for Research and Innovation of the member universities.
Excellence with all and for all is a high priority for Arqus and this objective was made clear during the Conference. The participation of the external members of the International Advisory Committee in the different sessions, the students' perspectives on the numerous challenges of the Alliance through the Student Council meetings and the formal recognition of innovative teaching practices at the Teaching Excellence Award ceremony are examples of the efforts to move towards a benchmark university model in education, research and transference in Europe that responds to social problems without leaving anyone behind.
During the session of closing remarks, Dorothy Kelly, Arqus coordinator and Vice-Rector for Internationalization at the University of Granada, has pointed out that "the Alliances are about community building for the common good. They are extremely important to defend our values, understand each other better and work for a future in peace. We have worked a lot to overcome our external and internal differences, trust each other and share our best practices, sources and strengths. Now we are moving to build together joint structures and programmes. And despite the difficulties and the pandemic impact, the results of our work show the resilience that Arqus has proved to have as Alliance".
Today we can say that the Arqus communities at Padua return home with more enthusiasm, strength and energy than ever to face the unprecedented challenges of the future in Europe and the rest of the world. It is time now to transform all the ideas and projects discussed into concrete actions within the universities. Congratulations and thanks to all those who have made this impressive Conference a reality, we are counting on all of you for the next Arqus Annual Conference at Graz (Austria) in 2023.